Lewis Hamilton has predicted Max Verstappen’s staggering domination could continue for the next couple of years.
The seven-time champion punctured the dreams of those who could see the shoots of competitive form emerging lately from the champions arch rivals, Mercedes and Ferrari.
Hamilton was speaking after the Dutchman extended his glory run to a record 17th win of the season with an easy victory in Brazil.
At the same time, Mercedes' renaissance in Texas and Mexico fell flat on its face in Sao Paulo with a performance boss Toto Wolff branded “the worst weekend in 13 years”.
Hamilton finished eighth, almost a minute behind the winner, and teammate George Russell retired with a broken engine.
That was on a circuit where Russell triumphed 12 months ago, and just 14 days after the man in the other Mercedes had pushed Verstappen all the way to the flag in Austin before being disqualified, and followed it up with another second place in Mexico.
“All I can do is try to remain optimistic,” said Hamilton in Brazil. “But the Red Bull is so far away they’re probably going to be very clear for the next couple of years.”
Despite his delight at the car’s form at the last race Hamilton now admitted: “I’m not dazzled by where we are.
“I get messages saying ’Oh, it’s looking good’ but I reply ‘It was looking good this time last year too and then we started the season 1.5 seconds behind'.”
The latest blow comes at the end of a week in which former technical boss Mike Elliott, who championed their disastrous so-called ‘zero sidepod’ design, left the team.
Former Ferrari chief James Allison tightened his grip on technical matters.
Wolff branded their sudden lack of form as “unacceptable” and “baffling”, saying Mercedes appeared to be racing on “three wheels not four” in their “miserable” car.
Hamilton had been running third early in the race and looked set to carve another slice out of Sergio Perez’s grip on second place in the drivers' championship.
But his slump to eighth, while Red Bull's Mexican driver gamely plodded up to fourth, meant Hamilton shipped another 12 points and now trails by 32 with rounds remaining in Las Vegas on November 19 and Abu Dhabi on November 26.
Hamilton’s analysis also rings true for Ferrari, who also suffered badly in Brazil. Having qualified on the front row, Charles Leclerc failed to make it to the start after a hydraulics failure pitched him into the barriers and teammate Carlos Sainz complained publicly about their troublesome clutch.
Bemoaning his misfortune, Leclerc joked he might detour before Vegas to the Christian religious site of Lourdes to try to turn his luck around.
Such is Red Bull’s scorching pace under genius designer Adrian Newey, their nearest rivals in Brackley and Maranello are falling apart just when the foundations of next year’s challenge should be materialising.
The two legendary teams are separated by just 20 points in the battle for second in the constructors' championship.
Neither team are particularly enamoured at the ‘honour’ of such a distant second to Red Bull except that it is tied to tens of millions extra in prize money.
With at least 44 points on offer in each of the last two events, one big race result could prove decisive.
“The gap is still big in the championship and we have to be aggressive,” admitted Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur.
Meanwhile, F1 bosses have reportedly assured teams the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will go ahead despite renewed warnings by Britain’s Foreign Office to its citizens to maintain a “high level of security awareness” in the Gulf because of the “high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals”.
The warning by the government in the country where most of the F1 teams are based is a copy of those being issued in Belgium, France and Bahrain who are also involved in F1.